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Archive for September, 2007

A step in the right direction at Ohio.com

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

OK, so I rant about the Beacon Journal Web site a lot.

I’ve discussed some of the practices that annoy me on every site, but especially Ohio.com because I frequent it.

But tonight, I popped over there and noticed something positive I wanted to note.

Beacon Journal wises up

Did you notice it? I did immediately. And I had a hunch from the headline, which was confirmed when I clicked through, this story was actually a follow-up to the subject of my previous rant about the Beacon Journal’s video practices.

In fact, in that rant I specifically made this suggestion about the video: “There was no indication on the story list. Come on, guys, you should advertise this to entice me to click!”

Tonight, they made a note about the video, in the headline, right out on front! I literally smiled and said “yay!” to myself about that. I wouldn’t have even clicked on the link had I not seen that note. Instead, I wanted to watch the video, whatever it was. That’s why pointing out there’s a video is a good idea. People love video.

UNFORTUNATELY, it’s the same video I ranted about before. :( I watched about a minute hoping maybe they had re-cut it or edited it down some.

Not a total win, but this is a definite step in the right direction.

(And just to drive the point home I’m not picking on the beacon and this really is a pet peeve of mine… I actually made the SAME comment about noting video in the headline of stories to my own managing editor last week about our site. It just makes sense.)

Putting pay in perspective

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

So, a superintendent and I were talking this afternoon, and he joked that with the money a new proposal would save, maybe he could convince the board to reallocate more money to his salary. He joked that he and I could split the $100K. Which, I of course replied was tempting, but — knowing his salary — I told him he didn’t really need a salary hike. He has a pretty good gig.

He joked that maybe he should just get a job as a part-time reporter to supplement his income. I told him it wasn’t nearly lucrative enough to be worth it for him. Hard work, crappy hours, crabby sources. ;) lol.

This led to a discussion at which he made the comment that, “I bet on a per-hour basis, you (as in me, Meranda) probably make more than me.” I almost died of laughter, and informed him I really don’t think he knows how poorly journalism pays, especially the newbies.

But he challenged me to calculate it. So I did.

Using his salary and my standard per-hour wage — if I worked only 40 hours a week, which I almost never do, it’s probably closer to 50 on average so it’s actually less — I determined that he would have to work 187+ hours each week to make the same rate.

There are only 168 hours in an entire week.

At his salary, it is physically impossible for him to make as little as me. And he’s not even one of the best compensated ones in this area. Plus this says nothing of his vacation, retirement and other perks. Granted he has a Ph.D. and way more experience and licenses than I do or even than I ever aspire to, but still. Puts things in perspective.

I wasn’t surprised by the finding, and it doesn’t change my commitment to journalism. I just thought it was really funny. He severely underestimates both the amount of work I put in each week and how much I’m actually compensated for it. So I think it put it in perspective for him, too.

7 journalism wonders?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

What would you nominate as the Seven Wonders of Journalism World?

Poynter wants to know. They’re soliciting nominations in several categories:

  • Documents (such as the First Amendment)

  • People (such as Walter Cronkite)
  • Institutions (such as the BBC)
  • Events (such as the publication of the Pentagon Papers)
  • Technology (such as the invention of the telegraph)
  • Works (such as the front page of the New York Times on Sept. 11)

From the nominations they receive, they’ll narrow it to about 10 per category. Then, they’ll do seeded brackets and let each go head to head to move forward.

I am trying to think of things worthy of nomination. You can check out the feedback on the post to see some other journalists’ suggestions.

Sounds like a neat idea. I’ll be interested in seeing what seven we end up with.

First high school micro-site launched

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

One of the first things I was told I would be charged with when I came to the J&C was helping create high school micro-sites at each of the county’s high schools.

The first of those sites finally launched Friday: Today at West Side

today at west side

I’ll be honest, this was the product of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. (Full disclosure: hardly any of it was really mine.) My task was to help brainstorm what we could include and who we should involve. My main and hardest task was then to use the connections I had made — little though they were, especially when we first started and I had literally just arrived — and try to get the high schools on board. Once I had administration on board and kids lined up, my editor and our online team really took over and made this happen. Though, the enthusiasm of the principal and students helped a lot.

Our first attempt, even with my editor at my side, was a huge strike out. An adamant no-go. And rather than fight the administration, we moved on.

Fortunately, I think the only person more excited about the concept than we were when I pitched it was the WL high school principal. He saw it for exactly what we hope it will become: A great way to get more news out about the good things happening in his school.

I’ve often commented that there could be a half dozen education reporters in this community, and we’d still never be for want of a story. That’s one of things I love and hate about my beat. I always have more than enough I can do, and I will always be missing things I wish I could get to. That’s the void the printed Schools Page we launched this spring and these micro-sites will help fill.

The micro-site, if you can’t tell from the screen shot, is mostly populated by student work. There’s a tab for J&C headlines, but the content you read or see in every other section is WL student work. We decided to team up with the high school’s newspaper to have a guaranteed stream of reliable students and content (they publish every three weeks, but the kids are really excited about the idea of being able to do breaking news between that cycle). We’re also continuing a relationship with the art classes to run student photo galleries (click on the “latest media” tab). We’re working on technical issues of uploading student films from the film lit class, which previously had been seen by a small audience and uploaded in a non-uniform way on YouTube. Eventually we will include the school’s daily Red Devil TV segment on the site. Comments will eventually be implemented on the stories — another thing the kids are excited to have is feedback on their work.

In each of the cases, it broadens the audience of the kids’ work, AND gives the community more insight into what’s happening at the school.

It’s also a great learning opportunity for those students. They are the ones uploading their content into our CMS, and they’re the ones calling the shots on story placement and breaking news stories (something they’ve never been able to do before because their Web site was literally a collection of PDF archives). I can’t think of a newspaper who wouldn’t like to have a staffer who can say they did those things as a sophomore or junior in high school.

But a key component of the site I haven’t mentioned is the wlhsVoice feature, which you see in the right corner. It’s basically the GetPublished feature, but we’re hoping kids who aren’t on the newspaper staff or in the art classes or who just want to be published take advantage. We’re leaving it pretty open to whatever they want to write about or shoot pictures of and, as long as it’s clean and not libelous or anything, we’ll put it up on the site.

You know the past few weeks as I’ve been out at the local schools, especially the high schools, later in the day when classes are out, I’ve really been reminded just how much a school really brings together the community. In a lot of cases it really gives the community an identity and a gathering place. When it really gets off the ground, this site, we hope, will be a way to get more focused and deeper coverage of the school and community on a level that the J&C could never provide on our own. And it will give the power to be heard to the people, so to speak, most impacted.

Eventually, now that we have this template down and once we work out some kinks and figure out our system, we’ll try and port this to the other high schools in our county as we planned. I can’t help but think even the original no-go will give a green light when they see how this positively affects the community.

is it brand new or just new?

Friday, September 14th, 2007

So there’s a debate of sorts that came up in a story I wrote today. And my meager Google skills (or more likely the fact that I am lazy and tired right now and have to wake up early) have so far not brought me any closer to a definitive answer.

I wrote about a band receiving an anonymous donation which allowed them to purchase a “brand new” truck to haul its trailer. The opening of the story talks about how bad the old van was, and how the boosters had been seeking money enough just to buy a used truck. But, then I talk about how a donor stepped forward and allowed them “to buy a new (insert the model which I can’t remember off the top of my head)” truck. My first draft said a “brand new ….” but I scratched the word brand because it was drilled into my head — by whom I can’t even recall at this point — that brand new was unnecessary. New alone suffices. It’s like saying something is very unique or the first ever. It is or it isn’t unique or the first. It’s either new or it’s not. Simple, right?

An editor called me around 10:30 p.m. to ask about the year of the vehicle. I have to admit, I didn’t get it and at that point, it was too late to try. I do know it was purchased off the dealer lot last week, but I didn’t think to ask the year. Point taken. I know nothing about cars anyway. Apparently without the year and my lack of the word “brand” before new, it throws into question whether the vehicle was new or not. (Or something along those illogical lines. I don’t quite follow it, because I clearly state it was new, so bear with me.)

I got an e-mail from the editor after our conversation: “We used the term brand new because it is not redundant, but has a meaning all its own. Brand new means not just new to the person but actually and indisputably new. Of course having the year would have made that unnecessary.”

I will give you that the year would have cleared it up if it were a 2008 model, but were it a 2007 model, it still could have been used. Second, I don’t think it’s necessary to be “actually and indisputably new.” I think being new is enough. The point is they were just looking for anything better than what they had, and they ended up with a free new $20K+ truck. It either is or it isn’t new. If it wasn’t, I would have qualified it, “new to them” or “used” or one of those other phrases that more aptly sum up the fact that it wasn’t, well, new.

But I digress. At this point, I’m just confused and venting. I am just curious if someone else has thoughts on this? Is it new or brand new, and do you think there’s even a difference? I understand the reasoning for including “brand new” in this story, I suppose. And it’s not like it meant cutting anything else to fit in that word. But I am curious for future purposes, because as I said, I was always taught it was a major don’t. And in a world where tight writing is necessary, I want to know if this is a safe short cut.

QOTD: … the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

“I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.”
— Aldous Huxley

What are you reporting on?

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

The concept is deceptively simple. Just ask reporters to share what they’re reporting on with other reporters and the public. Then, let them network with each other for advice/tips/a sounding board on similar stories. Let the public vote up, digg-style, topics they want to read about.

I don’t know if it’ll work, but I like the idea, which is apparently Ryan Sholin‘s.

I saw it because when Mindy McAdams joined the Facebook group, “What are you reporting on?”, it showed up in my Facebook newsfeed. When I went to the group I saw the Twitter account and started following it. I only share this process to show you why social networking sites are awesome, not just for posting party pictures or stalking old friends, but also for finding out about projects I’d never have heard about.

Definitely something to keep an eye on.